Help: What ARE Podcasts?

Heard about podcasts but don’t understand what they are or how to use them?


I tried to explain podcasts to my 93-year-old father. Not super easy. The best suggestion I had was to eliminate the word “podcast” for a minute and simply ask him to imagine wanting to listen to a radio program not when they broadcast it, but when he wanted to. Similar to recording a TV show for later. That’s all a “podcast” is: an audio program you listen to when you want to.

How you listen tends to complicate the discussion. In the “old” days, records were played on a record-player; TV shows were watched on TV; and radio programs were listened to on the radio.  But technology has turned all of that topsy-turvy: records barely exist; now we listen to music via applications like Pandora and Spotify. While TV shows still exist, we often watch them after they’ve been broadcast because we recorded them, or we access them via Netflix or Hulu, streamed to our computers and TVs.

As for radio, radio definitely still exists. But like records and TV, the ways by which we listen have expanded. Yes, we can still listen on the radio, in real time, while a program is happening.


We can also listen to radio when we want to, because a lot of radio shows record their programs and make them available to listeners in various ways. They make them available on-line, accessible on our computer through our browsers. They also make them available in “podcast” format, which allows us to download the programs to our phones and tablets.

When we have programs (podcasts) downloaded on our phones, we’re freed from radio schedules and our computers. We have mobility: we can listen to programs when we want in whatever order we want. Like old music cassette tapes, we can stop, rewind, go forward. We can even play a program at faster or slower speeds than as recorded. And we can create Playlists, a podcast version of a Mix Tape.

That’s the beauty of podcasts. The solid foundation of audio programming, present from the early days of radio, is still there. What’s changed has been the method of delivering that audio to us.

If you get that what you’re getting is the same, it’s just how it’s delivered that’s different, hopefully it’s less intimidating. Yes, there are new terms and technology, but radio had new terms and technology when IT was first introduced too!

An easy way to get introduced to the idea of listening on your schedule is to go on-line, find a show that offers recorded versions of their programs (any on my Try These Podcasts or Home pages will work), select one, and press the play button on your computer.  Voila! You’ve just tried something new: you’re listening to the program on your schedule, using your computer as the “delivery” system.

If you like it and you have a smart phone or tablet, look into downloading a version of the program to a podcast app on your phone (click here to get downloading guidance). The podcast, on your phone, becomes the “delivery” system.  Then, not only will you be listening on your schedule, you’ll also be untethered from your computer, free to roam as you listen.

That, for me, is one of the biggest benefits of podcasts: I can do it in places where reading won’t work, but I still get entertained, educated, challenged and stretched.

Give it a try! And let me know what program you decided to listen to, if you went full-on-podcast-download, and how it went.


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